Pre-teens rock their phone or iPad or laptop 7.5 hours a day, adults rock some screen about 8.5 hours a day, and of course, all this is tied to a reduction in creativity (or so we believe). I’ve sat at weddings with family members where they tell me, “Well, the goal is to have less screen time.” That’s a good thing to say, but then you walk into a restaurant with those same family members and bam, both on the phones looking at stuff. It’s a problem. Honestly, my wife got an Amazon Fire over the holidays and she’s on that thing consistently — and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t flipping through the iPhone 6 a dozen+ times daily. Sometimes I worry we’re missing out on other opportunities or experiences because of it.
The easy answer here is “Well, everyone does it,” and that does lead to the question of why. Is it because we assume something out there in the broader digital world is going to be more interesting than what’s in front of us? Or is it the whole push vs. pull question? I’ve written about this anecdote before, but a couple of years ago, I did some family stuff at Christmas — as people tend to do. One of the main figures involved made a big deal of how important it was for everyone to be together, and people shifted their schedules. As soon as we were all there, said person was consistently on Facebook looking at the updates of other people, not in that room. It was the oddest fucking thing I’ve ever seen, especially given the context of how the holiday was set up.
The other big thing people throw in this discussion is work. “If I don’t check my phone all the time, I’ll miss something at work and maybe I’ll get jumped for an opportunity!” That’s a horrible way of looking at work. Look, if there’s work and you gotta do it — you’ll see it and you’ll do it. That’s how most people are. 11pm on a Tuesday ain’t necessarily any better than 8:15am on a Wednesday, you know?
So there’s a general sense that screen time is bad, right? And there’s a general sense that maybe we should do something to lessen it, right? But it’s hard to pull ourselves away, no? So what can we do?
Well, maybe we can rely on the technology of the screen/phone itself to help us. From here:
Let your phones do the work without you. New technology can rescue today’s screen zombies: Web app Unroll.me can automatically compile promotional emails into a single digest to save you on email time. Dropbox’s Carousel can automatically backup your photos and remove them from your phone to save you space. TripIt automatically syncs your calendar with your flights so you don’t have to enter them manually.
But to start to see the real potential of a screenless world, grab IFTTT (and maybe even a sister app like LIFTTT). By creating triggers — for example, leaving the GPS location of your workplace — you can create recipes that take action automatically — text my wife that I’m on my way home — without ever taking your phone out of your pocket.
This is kind of the idea around the supermarket of the future. You’ll walk in there, and your phone will already know what food you have and don’t have, and what diet you’re on, so your phone will say to you: “Hey, if you want to make that avocado salad, you really need this type of vinegar in Aisle 7.” That’s terrifying in some respects, and incredibly helpful in others.
But one of the lesser-considered aspects of it is that, yes, it would shorten screen time. You can view it at the absolute end of the negative spectrum — in that vision, the machines are getting all our information and taking over — or you can view it somewhere in the middle, namely that technology has been advancing at a solidly rapid rate for years and the next step might actually be beneficial in that it removes us from being tethered to our screens.
Regardless, the broader point? Put your fucking phone down and spend some time at a food truck park or something — and no, you don’t need to Instagram it when you do.